Gee, people do seem to get their knickers in a twist over this little book. I like knickers, y’know, on a desirable woman. Twisted knickers? Meh, not so much. The first and only time I read The Catcher in the Rye was when I was sixteen. Let me take you back to that time…
Teenage P. was in many ways like adult P., just less hairy and less laid back and with a million hormones buzzing around inside him like some kind of potent cocktail of class A drugs. I read the book during my first year of college as part of an English Literature A-level class. Now, prior to starting college I had lived in circumstances that I will politely refer to as difficult. Yeah, difficult, or fucking horrible, take your pick. Most of you, I imagine, don’t know anything about Yorkshire council estates, so think Nil by Mouth or Requiem for a Dream, but with less optimism, fewer laughs. It is fair to say, then, that I was nervous about starting college. I had felt, from a very young age, unable to relate to my peers [to be fair to me, the ones I had met up to this point had all been thuggish wankers] and I was expecting to find myself in a similar position once again.
Anyway, on my first day of college I was given my timetable for the year: I had English Lit first lesson. I conscientiously turned up for the class early. Standing outside the classrooom when I arrived was a skinny dark-haired boy. Ah fuck, I think to myself, now I’ve got to talk to this weirdo. After a few minutes of uncomfortable stilted conversation the teacher arrived, followed by the rest of the class, and we entered the room and took our seats. The weirdo sat next to me. After some pleasantries and introductions the teacher handed out a book. The book was The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Why am I telling you all this? Well, it turned out that I loved college, that for the first time in my life I felt a part of something that made sense to me. Indeed, the weirdo is still my closest friend [I was best man at his wedding last year]. So, The Catcher in the Rye is a vital part of my adolescence; reading it is a lovely, cheering, memory. I cannot, then, review it with a complete lack of bias. As a profound stepping-stone in my life this book deserves all my love and admiration. Not only that, but Teenage P. genuinely adored it, he and the weirdo bonded over it.
What do I have to say about The Catcher in the Rye as a sometimes mature adult? First of all, I’m suspicious of those who claim to despise Caulfield or find him excessively annoying. Weren’t you people ever teenagers? Can’t you relate, just a little bit…just a tiny bit…just a smidgen? Because if you can’t then I pity you, I do truly. He’s just an average, over-sensitive, wide-eyed, uber-emotive, bundle of teenage lameness. Just like I was; just like most kids. I put it to you that if you haven’t ever laid on your bed listening to How Soon is Now, feeling slightly choked up, while pondering the inability of the rest of the world to, y’know, get you then you’re no member of the human race. You’re an alien. Go back to your home planet.
Holden is not Hitler. He’s a good kid, you know, that Holden. He just wants people to care for each other; and yeah he thinks he invented the concept, but teenagers think that all their emotions and ideas are original, so cut him some slack. The reaction from some readers and reviewers would have you think he spends the entire novel stamping on kittens [spoiler: no kittens are harmed during this novel].
Salinger, it ought to be said, had a fine prose style. Even now, if I open up the book, I find it impressive. It’s expressive, memorable, uniquely his own. That’s no mean feat and it’s not an accident. As a stylist he was a bit of a craftsman.
My final thought is that I probably wouldn’t find this book satisfying as a reading experience these days. I’ve moved on, but there’s no shame in that [either for me or the book or those who still hold it in high esteem].